In the middle of a very exciting match today with No. 1 seed, Simona Halep and No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki, Matt Cronin tweeted this gem
BTW Dubai has 2 have more fans. What half people out there now for Caro vs Halep? Must be better than that. Fly airplanes free from England?
— Matt Cronin (@TennisReporters) February 20, 2015
This was after I suppose watching the amazing match between Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza. Both women battled hard for almost 3 hours with Pliskova eking out a 7-5 in the third set win.
I am hoping that Mr. Cronin did not just tune in to see if anyone was in the stands, because if he had surely he did not miss the fact that there were so many people there who were cheering for their favourite player to get the win. However, separate and apart from the tweet about the lack of fans stands, there is something that I have begun to see more and more of when writers or journalists or whatever it is they call themselves these days commentate on women’s matches.
From the grunting debate that real tennis fans are now basically ignoring, to the talk about emotions, to how women can’t hold serve, to even going so far as to state how one dimensional the women are, from time to time you see it creeping into the conversation and if you are like me, and you love the women’s game, you start to think, well, if the women’s game is so poor, how then can the WTA publish the below numbers:
Top 5 tournaments in terms of largest cumulative TV and digital audiences in 2014:
1. BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global: 26,928,804
2. Miami Open presented by Itau: 23,065,116
3. BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells): 22,975,675
4. Rogers Cup (Toronto): 20,271,499
5. Mutua Madrid Open: 18,659,536
With numbers like the ones above, you would think that journalists would talk about the strength of the women’s Tour. Nope, the same narrative on women’s tennis usually raises its head, notwithstanding the numbers, which is what people who are important to tennis really look at.
Forget about the regular WTA Tour events for a minute and let us revisit another issue. For the past 3-4 years, the women’s finals at the ITF sanctioned Majors have consistently outperformed the men, or come close to outperforming the men in terms of ratings. As recent as this year’s Australian Open, the women’s final posted a higher rating than the men, 0.7 to 0.5 (Paulson Media)
From @paulson_smw: #AusOpen women’s final on ESPN: 0.7 overnight ratings (up 40%). Men’s final: 0.5 overnight, down slightly from Stan-Rafa
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) February 4, 2015
This uptick in interest in the women’s game has emanated from many quarters, not least of which is the fact that a lot of it has been driven by the continued resurgence of the great Serena Williams.
While there are many who will discount Serena’s input in making women’s tennis watchable again, the numbers do not lie. In the top 5 matches of 2014, Serena Williams featured in 3 of them (WTA Finals, Miami Open and Rogers Cup). The recent uptick in interest in women’s tennis could also be laid at the feet of a young Romanian who has taken the tennis world by storm. I am speaking of the fantastically gifted, Simona Halep. There is also no discounting the contributions of the emergence of players such as Eugenie Bouchard, the consistent rise of Maria Sharapova and the fact that there are so many players with a variety of game styles that are consistently at the later rounds of major WTA Tour events, as well as at the Grand Slams.
I have always found as soon as there is news about the interest that is being seen in women’s tennis there are those who would discount this by trying to focus on things that are not relevant to tennis, or at least not relevant to the facts. It is unfortunate that there are those out in the media who believe that their job is to spout nonsense about the women’s game and try to throw shade at the accomplishment of the WTA. The tweeting of empty stadiums during a women’s match seems to be the new thing.
Crowd massively concerned for Begu's health in Rio. pic.twitter.com/JVhNyA13Q1
— Stephanie Myles (@OpenCourt) February 21, 2015
In an effort to be equal in this endeavour, I will once again start posting pictures of the empty stadiums to which the men play as well. It is only fair that in all things we practice equality.
As we seem to be doing empty stadium shots. Thought I would share this one pic.twitter.com/2REnjCdgJY
— The Spin (@bridgepea) February 21, 2015
But back to Dubai and the fantastic outpouring of support that the women receive. I have been watching tennis for going on 20 years or more and I can safely say that I have never seen or heard fans shout a player’s name in the way that they did for Simona Halep during last week’s event. It was akin to being at a football match and hearing the constant shouting of player’s names throughout the stadium. It was electric, vibrant and just shows the popularity of this particular player. I can only imagine what will happen when she wins her first Major. For now, she has 10 WTA Tour titles. She is without a doubt the most popular player on the WTA Tour. She has a huge fan base and she will no doubt become even more popular as her career progresses. Well done Simona.
This and That
Victoria Azarenka is now being coached by Wim Fissette, formerly the coach of Simona Halep, briefly of Madison Keys and most famously of Kim Clijsters.
Rafael Nadal in losing to Fabio Fognini in Rio allegedly stated that he will ensure that Carlos Bernardes, one of the most respected umpires in tennis never works at one of his matches ever again. The Spin will no doubt be keeping our eye out on this one, because let us face it, this should be interesting and could be another "unattractive inside" moment in tennis.
One of my favourite follows on Twitter, StephintheUS has a new project called http://www.protennradio.com/. Please give a listen when you get a chance. Steph is one of the more ardent supporters of women's tennis and is quite knowledgeable about the women's game.
I had occassion to listen to the always brilliant NCR Podcast recently. If you have never listened to this podcast you should. One thing that struck me in Episode 98 which spoke about the return of Serena Williams to Indian Wells was the fact that journalists were forboden from speaking about the absence of the Williams Sisters and apparently journalists complied with such a request. While I can understand journalists trying to retain their credentials at such a prestigious tournament, I can't help but be quite disappointed that Indian Wells and the journalists who cover this event thought it would be a good idea to censor the coverage of this event.
Finally, when so-called tennis fans send nasty messages to players on Twitter they are called trolls. However, when journalists do it, what do you call them? The following 2 tweets sent directly to Karolina Pliskova by Barry Flatman has caused a furore (as it should) in social media.
@KaPliskova now receiving off court medical time out. How do you treat insufficient heart in the important moments?
— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) February 21, 2015
Maintaining momentum after good fortune is a gift that wins titles. @KaPliskova found sadly lacking as very slack game hands back break
— Barry Flatman (@Barry_FlatmanST) February 21, 2015
I wonder what sanctions, if any, will be levied against Mr. Flatman. As of the time of writing this post, I have not seen an apology directed to Ms. Pliskova. I am sure Mr. Flatman is busy drafting something to post in 140 words or less.